India to pay $674 compensation to COVID-19 victims

Credit: CBSNews
Credit: CBSNews

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New Delhi — India’s Supreme Court approved Monday a government plan to pay only 50,000 Indian rupees, approximately $674, as compensation to families of all those who died of COVID-19

Families of the more than 448,000 people who have officially died of COVID-19 in India and also of those who may die of the illness in future are expected to benefit, though there have been reports that the unofficial death toll could be much higher. 

The Supreme Court’s order came on the back of two petition filed in June this year by advocates Gaurav Kumar Bansal and Reepak Kansal, who had sought a compensation of 400,000 rupees — approximately $5,392 — for every COVID victim. 

The petitioners had argued that since the government had officially declared the coronavirus pandemic as a disaster under the Disaster Management Act of 2005, the federal government was bound by the law to provide compensation to those who died during the disaster. 

The court then asked the federal government for a response and to frame guidelines for the compensation, and left it to the “wisdom” of the National Disaster Management Authority to set the amount. 

In its response, the government in June argued that granting 400,000 rupees was “beyond fiscal affordability” of states, since funds were needed for other pandemic purposes too. The court then gave more time to the government to fix an amount. 

Last month, the federal government told the Supreme Court that it was instead ready to pay the COVID-19 victims’ families 50,000 rupees as compensation from state disaster response funds. 

On Monday, a Supreme Court bench of Justices M. R. Shah and A. S. Bopanna approved that amount in their ruling.

“We know the government has spent a lot of money in managing the pandemic. But we still think the government should have paid 400,000 rupees compensation to every affected family according to the law. Or they could have given a higher amount to the poor families and less to the well-to do. They could have bettered it,” Gaurav Kumar Bansal, one of the petitioners, told CBS News’ partner network, the BBC.

The Supreme Court has insisted that the compensation should be paid within 30 days of a family submitting a claim, for which the government has laid out a process. Families would need to fill out a form and submit documents like death certificates in order to claim the cash. If every family who has lost someone actually gets the compensation, it will cost the provincial governments more than $300 million. 

Since there may be tens of thousands of those who died at home and whose families did not acquire a death certificate, or whose death certificates did not mention COVID-19 as a cause of death, the court has asked the government to allow such people to get their records corrected. 

India is the second-worst affected country by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 33.8 million cases and more than 448,000 deaths, only behind the U.S., which has reported more than 43 million cases and 700,000 deaths. 

Most of India’s cases and deaths were reported during the deadly second wave of the pandemic around May, when the country’s healthcare system was brought to its knees. But for the past few months, as the new infections decreased, the country has eased most restrictions on travel and businesses.